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Why we don’t own the market’s favourite stock of 2020

Past performance does not predict future returns. You may get back less than you originally invested. Reference to specific securities is not intended as a recommendation to purchase or sell any investment.

The automobile market is undergoing a transformation not seen since 1908 when Ford launched the mass market Model T. Electric vehicles (EVs) are at the forefront of this change, but we prefer to access this disruptive innovation through more traditional auto names rather than the increasingly expensive companies currently leading the charge, at least in the public eye.

Let’s look at some numbers to bring this to light. Tesla is now worth $650 billion despite the fact it sold just 500,000 cars last year. This might sound hugely inflated but is actually reasonable if you compare it to the recent SPAC (special-purpose acquisition company) transaction of Lucid (according to its CEO, the only EV company able to compete with Tesla), which is now valued at upwards of $20 billion without even selling a car. And what about NIO, the Chinese EV company, which was worth $5.9 billion at the end of 2019 and now has a total enterprise value of $72 billion?

With eye-watering valuations across the EV universe, who is actually winning? Well, Tesla has the lead but, as many across the industry will remind you, its takes decades to build out the infrastructure such as manufacturing plants, supply chains, touch points with consumers and brands that stretch across cultures and geographies.

With Tesla at 500,000 cars a year, where is the competition? It turns out its closest competitor so far is one of the most unlikely companies – Volkswagen. With more than 422,000 plug-in vehicles sold last year, Volkswagen is closer than any market commentor or automobile chief executive would lead you to believe.

How is this German behemoth quietly building an EV market position to rival Tesla’s? To understand this, we need to rewind the clock five years and revisit Volkswagen’s darkest days. Battered by the ‘Dieselgate’ scandal, the company had no alternative but to reposition its strategy to align with all stakeholders. Immediately, the company restructured its organisation to encourage innovation and reallocated significant capital from traditional internal combustion engine development to EV technology. The size of the pivot is staggering and is highlighted by the $42 billion investment the company is making in this technology over five years.

But what does this mean for consumers? From Wright’s Law (a way of forecasting cost declines as a function of cumulative production), we can predict the cost of production of EVs will collapse in line with the flow of capital investment into a new technology. And with EV manufacturing costs tracking this predicted decline so far, we can expect EVs to challenge traditional combustion engines within the next five years on the same price point.

EVs are already faster, quieter, cleaner and have fewer moving parts, so price remains one of the last hurdles, alongside range. The good news on range is that technology advancements in energy efficiency and charging are progressing at a rate that makes us confident EVs will be able to compete head-to-head with combustion engines soon.

For consumers, the upcoming launch of EVs across brands from Audi’s e-tron, Porsche’s Macan, Volvo’s XC40 to Ford’s Mustang offers an attractive line-up. But for the mass market, we ultimately care about price and so the launch of Volkswagen’s ID.4 in the US is the best litmus test yet. At a price point of $40,000 before tax incentives, it can not only go head-to-head with Tesla’s model 3, but also compete with traditional combustion engines on a level playing field. This means that if the launch is a success (unlike Tesla’s), Volkswagen can flex its supply chain and manufacturing base and meet demand across its dealership network. On the other hand, Tesla will have to contend with a big new competitor with many more to follow.

It remains to be seen if the auto market will end in a winner takes all when it comes to EVs, but we suspect that just like the smartphone market, where Apple now struggles to maintain a 10% market share, and the streaming wars, where a Blue Ocean for Netflix has turned a bit more red, there will be plenty of room at the table for companies able to compete head-to-head with Tesla. We think Volkswagen more than fits these criteria and offers a much better opportunity than the high-flying EV stocks.

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Key Risks 
Past performance is not a guide to future performance. The value of an investment and the income generated from it can fall as well as rise and is not guaranteed. You may get back less than you originally invested. The issue of units/shares in Liontrust Funds may be subject to an initial charge, which will have an impact on the realisable value of the investment, particularly in the short term. Investments should always be considered as long term.
Investment in funds managed by the Global Equity (GE) team may involve investment in smaller companies - these stocks may be less liquid and the price swings greater than those in, for example, larger companies. Investment in funds managed by the GE team may involve foreign currencies and may be subject to fluctuations in value due to movements in exchange rates. The team may invest in emerging markets/soft currencies or in financial derivative instruments, both of which may have the effect of increasing volatility. Some of the funds managed by the GE team hold a concentrated portfolio of stocks, meaning that if the price of one of these stocks should move significantly, this may have a notable effect on the value of that portfolio.  


This is a marketing communication. Before making an investment, you should read the relevant Prospectus and the Key Investor Information Document (KIID), which provide full product details including investment charges and risks. These documents can be obtained, free of charge, from www.liontrust.co.uk or direct from Liontrust. Always research your own investments. If you are not a professional investor please consult a regulated financial adviser regarding the suitability of such an investment for you and your personal circumstances. 
This should not be construed as advice for investment in any product or security mentioned, an offer to buy or sell units/shares of Funds mentioned, or a solicitation to purchase securities in any company or investment product. Examples of stocks are provided for general information only to demonstrate our investment philosophy. The investment being promoted is for units in a fund, not directly in the underlying assets. It contains information and analysis that is believed to be accurate at the time of publication, but is subject to change without notice. Whilst care has been taken in compiling the content of this document, no representation or warranty, express or implied, is made by Liontrust as to its accuracy or completeness, including for external sources (which may have been used) which have not been verified. It should not be copied, forwarded, reproduced, divulged or otherwise distributed in any form whether by way of fax, email, oral or otherwise, in whole or in part without the express and prior written consent of Liontrust. Always research your own investments and if you are not a professional investor please consult a regulated financial adviser regarding the suitability of such an investment for you and your personal circumstances. 
Storm Uru
Storm Uru
Storm is a lead fund manager of the Liontrust Global Innovation, Liontrust Global Dividend and Liontrust Global Technology funds. He has 12 years industry experience, including as a fund manager and trader and prior to Liontrust worked at Neptune Investment Management running global funds and covering the global industrials sector. He holds an BBS in finance and MBS in international business from Massey University, an MBA from Oxford University and is a CFA Charterholder. He represented New Zealand in rowing at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, winning bronze in London in 2012.

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